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Pairing Indian wine with Indian cheese
Chef Shaun Kenworthy reports on what he believes to be a unique tasting of Indian wine and Indian cheese.
Shaun writes: "There is a rumble of change in almost every facet of life in today’s India. If we go back not too many years the idea of drinking wine as opposed to whisky and any other cheese than the processed stuff that the whole country has a fascination for made by enormous companies such as Amul and Britannia were little known anomalies.
That said, India does have an artisanal tradition of cheese and wine making that goes back a couple of hundred or so years to the Portuguese and British. A scant few traditional cheeses are still made in the mountainous regions of northern India and I’ve personally taken some around the world demonstrating with them and showing them off but how much longer they have left, being made in such small quantities is sadly anyone’s guess.
India’s wines have traditionally been produced along the hilly ridges of southern India, which run through Maharashtra and Karnataka but by the 1950s whatever little interest there was in wine, dwindled once India became independent and it wasn’t until the 90s, that a whole new generation of winemakers started to come through using modern wine making techniques.
There has been much talk about Indian wines in India recently, so much so that sales have been doubling each year, with all the 5 star hotel chains and higher end restaurants in the major Indian cities putting home-grown wines on their lists.
A sommelier friend of mine, Keith Edgar and I were recently asked by the Calcutta Wine Club to do a cheese and wine tasting. It was such a great opportunity that we decided to do a completely blind tasting of four wines and six cheeses so that we could keep secret the fact that they were all Indian.
I’m not quite sure what the members were really expecting but more than likely some domestic and imported wines and imported cheeses?! Of which there are few that find their way into the supermarkets other than the likely suspects such as ricotta, mozzarella, gouda, parmesan, cheddar, Danish blue and brie although as hoteliers with access to wholesale suppliers we do get much more to choose from.
The local cheeses I chose were fresh and smoked Bandel, both a little salty and crumbly in texture, round and small in size, still produced in a small Portuguese settlement town, around 60km from the city, Kalimpong cheese which is still made in 12kg and 1kg wheels by a few different cheesemakers, the texture being like a rustic Caerphilly: white and crumbly in the centre and yellowy inside the rind with a bit of a tang. It’s made in Kalimpong, a small hill station around 200km from Calcutta.
The other three, relatively new cheeses made by La Ferme, Auroville, in the old French city of Pondicherry, close to Chennai (formerly Madras): a good strong tangy Cheddar, their Auroblochon (but don’t let the name seduce you into thinking otherwise - this cheese is similar to an intensely ripe Pecorino) and their delicious semi-soft Gorgonzola.
Thankfully it’s easier to introduce our wines for the evening as you’d know what to expect from the grape varieties but again they were all Indian: a Sula Sauvignon Blanc 2012*, Fratelli Sangiovese 2011, Four Seasons Cabernet Sauvignon 2011and finally, India’s only dessert wine, Sula’s late harvest Chenin Blanc 2012.
We started off, as you would expect, with the milder cheeses and lighter wines, not wanting to make this too challenging a test for the wine club. After much discussion and many ooo’s and aaah’s, we ended up with very few hits but at least we’d conducted what was probably the first completely Indian cheese and wine tasting in the world to date!
Our top Indian wine and cheese pairings:
Sula Sauvignon Blanc 2012
I think we both expected this to go better with the salty fresh Bandel but it wasn’t unpalatable and maybe a little extra fattiness in the cheese would have helped
Fratelli, Sangiovese 2011
A good pairing with the fresh and smoked Bandel and Kalinpong
Four Seasons, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
The smoked, Kalimpong and the hefty cheddar worked best
Sula late harvest Chenin Blanc 2012
And I don’t think anything could take away from this star of the show with the Auroblochon and the Gorgonzola."
For more information about Indian cheese read this article in the Telegraph, Calcutta.
UK-born and bred, chef Shaun Kenworthy began his career in Yorkshire but worked for some of London’s best known restaurants including Bibendum, The Atlantic Bar, Coast, Air, Mash and Quaglino’s. Since he arrived in India in 2000 he has worked as an executive chef and consultant in Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad. In whatever little spare time he has left he writes about his love of good food.
* which seems to be available in the UK if you'd like to try it.
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